You might not know this, but I am planning to leave America and move overseas — permanently. There are a lot of reasons I am doing this, not the least of which is the fact that I am in love with a British scientist and that, even as a child growing up in a farming community, I always took it for granted that I would relocate overseas (it just took a helluva lot longer to accomplish than I ever thought it would).
Originally, I thought I’d be moving to Finland — comparatively easy for me since I’m Finnish and I’ve fallen in love with that beautiful country, the people and the language. However, a certain special person (who shall remain nameless), whom I was planning to move in with found a Real Science Job TM in Frankfurt, Germany, so — surprise, surprise! — that is where I will be moving, instead.
Unfortunately, relocating overseas is not so simple as just throwing my bicycle and a few books into a moving crate and a few clothes into a satchel before jumping on an airplane, as I did when I moved cross-country from Seattle. No, instead of the simple stress of a 3000 mile move (more than 4800 kilometers; I promise to use this opportunity to remind my readers of the metric system as often as possible!), I have several additional obstacles to deal with, the most obvious are the Atlantic Ocean and my embarrassing lack of German (although I must remind you that I do have a reasonable comprehension of Spanish and Indonesian, and I am very capable of providing comic relief by embarrassing myself in Japanese!).
There are three big obstacles I am facing that, when examined, break down into dozens of equally huge (if not huge-r) obstacles. I know it should be scientifically impossible that a given problem is comprised of component issues that each are at least as large as the original problem itself, but after reading this list, I think you’ll agree with me that it’s actually quite possible!
- Residency challenges. It turns out that I cannot move in with someone permanently if I don’t have an employer in Germany who will sponsor me. If I ignore this law, I will be considered an illegal alien, deported and not allowed to return for at least four or five lifetimes. This means I was confronted with one of two choices; (a) apply for a travel visa so I could then live in Germany for three months at a time, return to the USA to live for a further three months while I apply for another travel visa and repeat, forever; or (b) get married and live in Germany as long as my British spouse has an employer who will sponsor him. Which looks like it will be as long as they both shall live.
This presented me with an ethical dilemma because I do not “believe in” marriage, unless kids are involved. (You will be relieved to learn that my spouse is less militant than I in this regard and had actually asked me to marry him .. awhile .. ago). However, in this particular situation, after learning what the options were, I decided that the most logical thing to do was to get married. Especially since my spouse’s employer would be more likely to provide me with health insurance/coverage than if we were “just” living together, as we’d originally planned. Especially if I am unable to find a job in Frankfurt — likely, in view of the fact that it will probably take me at least one year and many hours of German classes and god knows how many beers to become vaguely understandable to the natives, sigh!
I am pleased to report that my spouse appeared to be quite pleased when the German Consulate and his officer suggested “the marriage option.” On the other hand, I sat there in that large room surrounded by strangers except for my guy sitting next to me, feeling my concept of reality shift and tilt, wondering what I should say and feeling the seconds stretch out into hours … but he smiled almost immediately and said “Okay! Let’s do it!” This sounds goofy, but looking at his smile, I realized in that moment that everything would be okay, and that I would be forgiven for being a hypocrite (just this once).
Wow. So one week later, we got married at city hall in rrrrromantico NYC, and then we spent the rest of that day running around lower Manhattan, getting an Apostele (an international marriage certificate). Only days later did we purchase rings (hematite — the perfect geeky wedding bands because they’re magnetic!). Then after seeing and doing every fun thing imaginable from dawn until dusk in NYC, he left ten days later for beautiful Helsinki, where he is packing his things and moving to Frankfurt in a few short days.
As an aside to my little story, there is one thing that really surprised me about getting married: I feel a very strong bond, a commitment, that I hadn’t felt before. I had not viewed living together as anything other than a “marriage” but there is a difference. For example, before we married, our plans were just between us, but now, it seems that a large number of friends and family support and share in our destiny and life together. Of course, they all want to know what we plan to do, whereas before, when we were planning our “living together thing,” the topic of our plans and future together rarely came up among friends. So in an odd way, this public recognition of our togetherness is comforting, especially since we are thousands of kilometers apart and will be until the end of November or even into December, or maybe as long as until Christmas! GAH!!
One more aside to my little story: I’ve not celebrated Christmas for most of my life. Seriously, it was just a day to listen to the radio, watch movie DVDs on my laptop, read books, take care of people’s pets while they vacationed and bemoan to my parrots the fact that the pubs were all closed so I was really, horribly isolated. For the first time in my life, I am looking forward to the holidays!
- Parrot-moving challenges. This is an astonishingly vague, poorly described and confusing process that actually consists of several incredibly huge and often conflicting jobs all rolled into one big, intimidating stressful monster that literally keeps me awake most nights. Those jobs are; (a) working with USFWS to obtain CITES permits to export my birds, (b) working with USDA (and spending literally thousands of dollars) to prove my birds’ health, and obtaining all documents in both coherent English and coherent German, (c) quarantining my birds in my apartment for 30 days prior to export (and “isolating” them for ten days before putting them on the plane), (d) finding an affordable carpenter to build a moving crate that conforms to international flight requirements, (e) making sure I know the correct government official to FAX all my documents to at the airport in Frankfurt before my birds’ departure, and (f) identifying and working with a veterinarian in Germany to make sure I have all the proper medical paperwork to import my birds and so s/he can inspect the apartment where we all will stay before the birds and I arrive to certify it is an appropriate quarantine location, and also so s/he can inspect the birds upon arrival to ensure they are who I say they are.
I’ve only started on the first job, applying for the CITES permits — a process that will take an indeterminate length of time, but is guaranteed to take “at least 30 days, or 60 days, or maybe 90 days or longer” (!!). I filled out the application form [PDF], included the $50 check and snailmailed it eleven days ago, and still have not been assigned a USFWS agent to work with. I plan to panic tomorrow if I don’t have an agent to call and work with (stay tuned for that excitement).
To say the least, this process is discouraging and incredibly stressful because there is no clear and definite timeline to follow. Meanwhile, time is ticking away … and every day beyond the end of October that I stay in my apartment, waiting for all the damned paperwork to arrive, costs me more than $1000 in rent, penalties and extra fees alone (my lease ends on October 31, and because my landlord is such a scummy money-grubbing bastard, he’s making me pay rent by the month, even if I overstay by only one day). This doesn’t include the cost to keep me and the birds alive, and running to the veterinarian and purchasing myriads of blood tests, etc. In addition to the stress of not knowing if I am doing everything perfectly correctly, the thought of all these mounting costs makes me feel like vomiting.
- Moving my possessions, which consist of roughly 80% books, by volume. Actually, until I started reading this website, I was completely unaware of all the paperwork I need to complete to relocate to Germany. (The consulate told me that shortly before I leave, I need to get a letter from my police precinct’s chief addressed to the German police, verifying I am not an ax murderer, habitual noisemaker or child molester, etc., but that’s the only paperwork I knew about).
So I am currently talking with several moving companies and, based on their estimate that I have 110 boxes of books (!!), along with a bicycle (already boxed), a futon mattress, clothing, five oddly shaped and unmatched plates, one bowl, several forks, spoons and knives and a few other odds and ends, approximately 30 coffee mugs and beer glasses, one five-gallon aquarium and five large parrot cages, the current estimate to pack my things, carry them down four floors and put them into a moving crate, ship them from NYC to Germany, deliver them to my door in Frankfurt and unload them is roughly US $3000 and will take 6-8 weeks to arrive. (Miraculously, this moving company charges by volume, not weight).
When I heard all that, I almost fainted from relief: moving half that amount of books, all the lumber necessary to rebuild my bookshelves, five caribou antlers, the same bicycle and futon mattress (and no kitchen things, and no clothing beyond what I carried on the plane with me) from Seattle to NYC cost me $3000 and took 15 weeks to arrive — more than seven years ago! And that moving company didn’t pack or unpack anything or provide boxes or other packing materials, either! I often wonder if that moving company sent my possessions to the moon and back before finally delivering them to me in NYC.
So tell me the truth: should I be suspicious about this price? It almost sounds too good to be true — and you know what they say about that! Even more strange, the person whom I spoke to on the phone is really a nice guy (my internal creep-o-meter alarm didn’t sound once). Is it possible that this part of my relocation might go smoothly? Maybe I am deceiving myself into thinking he is trustworthy because he is British, like my spouse .. ?
Anyway, this representative is planning to come out to my apartment on Monday evening to measure the books and to look at my stuff so he can make a more reality-based estimate, so I assume I’ll be updating you all soon afterwards.